Written for Muzlimbuzz.sg | 28 September 2012 | Link
Slowly, the crowd trickled into the modest space that Urban Village had prepared for the event as the rain poured outside in torrents. Apologizing for the delay, the event organizers pointed out that the rain had caused most of the attendees to be caught in massive traffic jams, a normality in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. What was not so normal in this city, however, was the eclectic crowd gathered that night in one room, from young cultured Malay artists to white-haired blue-eyed elderly. A spotted white cat too was thrown into the mix.
Organized in conjunction with Professor Timothy J. Winter @ Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad’s launch of his book “Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions”, the talk was titled “Engage the Age”. Educated at Cambridge University, Al-Azhar and London universities, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad is currently the Shaykh Zayed Lecturer of Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University and Director of Studies in Theology at Wolfson College, Cambridge, and the founder and dean of the Cambridge Muslim College.
The talk began on a note that struck close to Singaporeans, as the moderator quoted from the book “Hard Truths to keep Singapore Going” by our Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew:
I would say today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam. I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration — friends, intermarriages and so on… I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.Lee Kuan Yew
This was basically the essence of the talk that night; that ‘in an age where Western civilization, culture and influence dominates almost every sphere of life, Muslims in general find themselves in an overwhelming position to either conform and sacrifice some of their principles or face the possibility of being called an outcast of society’.
What then, should we Muslims do?
Lessons from The Seven Sleepers
Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad began his 30 minutes talk with a reference to Surah al-Kahf’s story of the Seven Sleepers. For those unaware, the Seven Sleepers is in short, a story of a group of youth who resisted the pressure of their people and ruler to worship others besides Allah. For their own safety, they sought refuge in a cave, whereby they went to sleep for a long while. When they woke up thinking that they have slept only a day or so, they sent out from amongst them someone to purchase some food. Through the coins they had on them, it was later made known that they had slept for 300 years or so.
The Shaykh highlighted that even though these youth were under extreme pressure by the society at that time to conform, they did not resort to violent means or pledge to take revenge on the oppression that was done unto them. Instead, what they did was to take themselves away from familiar comforts and chose instead to place the highest level of tawakkul (place faith or confidence) in Allah.
In fact, the first thing they asked for in response to their condition was captured in Surah Al-Kahf, verse 10:-
… “Our Lord! Bestow on us Mercy from Thyself, and endow us, whatever our condition, with consciousness [guidance] of what is right!”
Mercy and Guidance
Rahmah, or mercy, is connected to the Divine and even He has prescribed mercy unto Himself. Every Muslim child begins his Islamic education with the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (In the name of Allah, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful) and in traditional Islamic methods of learning, the first hadith that all students are asked to engrave onto their heart is:-
“Those who are merciful will be given mercy by the Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy on you.”
As such, it is obvious that the concept of mercy holds high station in Islam, which is why it was the very first thing that the youth from Surah al-Kahf asked for. However, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad pointed out that being merciful alone is not enough, for man is limited in his capabilities to understand what is right and what is wrong. Thus, asking for guidance is the most logical thing to ask for after mercy, as the youth in the Seven Sleepers have done.
For example, The Shaykh pointed out that when a child is extremely sick, his parents would most likely want to be merciful towards said child, but the question that arises would then be what exactly would be deemed as merciful? Would putting him on life-support be merciful, or would ending his life be the correct thing to do? He went on to elaborate that human beings tend to want to be merciful, but we too tend to understand ‘mercy’ in the wrong way… which is why we have to always ask Allah swt to give us guidance to do what is right in His eyes.
Hence, Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad proposed that we should align our actions and reactions as according to the Qur’an and Sunnah, which is to act with mercy and with guidance, for mercy is to bring beauty onto the surface of the world, and that is what Islam is all about.
Mercy and The Arts
Perhaps as a homage to the venue of the talk, Urban Village (an independent creative hub), Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad then illustrated an example on how to practice mercy in the Arts. The Muslim artist’s job is to display mercy by showing the world the beauty of the Divine, for he, through his works, is an agent of reminder to mankind.
The attendees were reminded that the revelation was sent to bring sakinah (peace) into this world, and that should be the end result of an artwork – to bring peace to the one watching, listening, or reading said artwork. The artist should see that everything reflects mercy, for it is the beginning, the end and IS the world itself. The Shaykh noted that in doing so, the artist might be judged negatively by the arts society these days which upholds humanism etc, but the Muslim artist should know in his heart that the only judge or verdict that matters is Allah s.w.t.
Engage the Age
In conclusion, in this day and age where values have slowly returned to as they are during the time of the Jahilliyah (a sign of the Day of Judgement), Muslims should, as the Shaykh had explained, exercise mercy with guidance and wisdom in all the actions that they do. When the Prophet Muhammad sallaallahu ‘alaihi wasalaam spread the message of Islam to the world, he brought about a message of tolerance and beauty to replace the uncontrollable fury and ignorance that the Arabs had at that point of time. What was true in the past about Islam, is still true today.
Some people might tell us that it is a hopeless cause to practice mercy in this world because the tide against us is too strong, but we have to remember that all power lies with Allah subhanahu wata’ala and with Him alone. Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad reminded us of a hadith, where it was mentioned If the Hour (the day of judgement) came and in the hand of any of you a Faseelah (a small palm) and was able to plant it before he stands let him do so. What this means is that we should not give up in trying to bring mercy to the world.
The Shaykh then reminded us that every single moment in time is an opportunity for us to exercise rahmah, be it to our parents, our siblings or friends, a chance encounter with someone on the streets, or even to the spotted white cat that had joined us for the talk that night.
Sometimes we are too busy looking at the things we can’t do, that we forget the things that we can do.Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad
May Allah subhanahu wata’ala grant us His mercy, His guidance and the wisdom to be able to express mercy to every one and every thing that we meet in this day and age. Ameen.